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Anti-Defamation League

The Anti-Defamation League (or ADL) of B'nai B'rith is an American organization dedicated to fighting anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, racism and bigotry through an array of programs and services.

With an annual budget of over $40 million, the ADL has 29 offices in the USA and 3 offices in other countries. The current director of ADL is Abraham Foxman[?]. The national chair is Howard Berkowitz[?].

With the decline of overt anti-Semitism in the U.S., the ADL has increasingly focused on pro-Israel activism. This has also made the group controversial among Palestinians and their sympathizers.

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Founded in October, 1913 by Sigmund Livingston[?], the ADL's charter stated "The immediate object of the League is to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience and, if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people. Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens."

The ADL has opposed anti-Semitism and racism from many groups and individuals, including the Ku Klux Klan, Henry Ford, Father Charles Coughlin, leader of the Christian Front[?], the Christian Identity movement, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the German-American Bund[?] and the Nation of Islam.

The ADL has spoken out against red-baiting and McCarthyism. The ADL took a role in opposing the UN General Assembly resolution that Zionism was racist, which was later overturned.

Arab and Muslim relations

The Anti-Defamation League has not often worked together with Arab-American and Muslim-American civil rights groups, owing to disagreement concerning the Israeli-Palestine conflict.

However, the Anti-Defamation League has on numerous occasions reached out to moderate elements within the Islamic community, and works to improve interfaith dialogue. The ADL has publicly condemned slurs and attacks against Islam. ADL publications on condemning bigotry towards Arabs, Muslims, blacks and members of other minorities have often been used in synagogue adult education programs, and as part of Jewish-Christian and Jewish-Muslim inter-faith dialogue.

There is a separate article on Projects working for peace among Israelis and Arabs.

Black relations

Historically, African-Americans and the ADL worked closely together in the civil rights struggle. Since the 1970s relations have been less smooth, owing to diverging opinions on a range of issues (including affirmative action, welfare, Israel and a range of other topics).

ADL speaks out against some voices in the Black-community, especially the Nation of Islam, which the ADL consider to be black supremacist. However, the ADL also works to combat racism against all racial groups, including racism against blacks. In 1997 the National Center for Black-Jewish Relations of Dillard University[?] (a historically Black University in New Orleans) awarded the director of the ADL, Abraham H. Foxman, with the first Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. - Donald R. Mintz Freedom and Justice Award.

The ADL investigated the anti-apartheid[?] African National Congress closely, before the ANC became the ruling party in South Africa. The ADL disliked the ANC's public support of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Abe Foxman[?], ADL's national director, explained: "At the time we exposed the ANC, they were communist. They were violent, they were anti-Semitic, they were pro-PLO and they were anti-Israel". The ADL shared its findings with South African intelligence organzations. See the section on the ADL files, below.


The ADL is criticized for equating views critical of Israeli policies with anti-semitism, and thereby stifling discussion about Israeli policies. Noam Chomsky, a critic of Israel wrote in his 1989 book Necessary Illusions:

"The ADL has virtually abandoned its earlier role as a civil rights organization, becoming 'one of the main pillars' of Israeli propaganda in the U.S., as the Israeli press casually describes it, engaged in surveillance, blacklisting, compilation of FBI-style files circulated to adherents for the purpose of defamation, angry public responses to criticism of Israeli actions, and so on....These efforts, buttressed by insinuations of anti-Semitism or direct accusations, are intended to deflect or undermine opposition to Israeli policies, including Israel's refusal, with U.S. support, to move towards a general political settlement."

Chomsky himself has been accused by many of anti-Semitism; a discussion of Chomsky's views may be found in the article on anti-Semitism and in the Noam Chomsky article.

The ADL files

Since the 1930s, the ADL has worked to amass what it calls its "famous storehouse of accurate, detailed, unassailable information on extremist individuals and organizations". Over a period of decades they created thousands of files, mostly containing newspaper, magazine and journal clippings, as well as many books, on groups that the ADL considered anti-Semitic or potentially anti-Semitic. One of its researchers was Roy Bullock, who often wrote letters to various groups and forwarded copies of their replies to the ADL, and he also maintained his own personal files on his computer.

In the early 1990s U.S. Representative Pete McCloskey (Republican, Californian) filed a class-action lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court against the ADL. He claimed that information gathered about him, and others, was an invasion of privacy.

The ADL countered that like any researcher or journalist, they are entitled to research organizations and individuals. The ADL gained some support from Richard Cohen, legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, Alabama. He stated that the ADL's mission to fight anti-Semitism and racism involves gathering information on such groups and publishing reports on these topics. Cohen states "They gather information however they can" and "they probably rely on their sources to draw the line" about what information legally can be given out. A major problem for the ADL is that Bullock admitted that some of the information he obtained, and then passed on to the ADL, came from former San Francisco police officer Tom Gerard; Bullock admitted that he was over-zealous, and that that the information gathered this way may have been illegal.

On April 8, 1993 the ADL offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles were raided by police. It was discovered that the ADL had files on 12,000 Americans and more than 950 groups, the vast majority being newspaper clippings. Among those groups that were being tracked by the ADL were: African National Congress (ANC), American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), United Auto Workers[?], ACT-UP[?], Mother Jones magazine[?], Greenpeace, and the National Lawyers Guild[?].

This led to a lawsuit, in which a number of Arab Muslim groups claimed that the ADL was spying on Americans. Hussein Ibish, director of communications for the ADC, claimed that the ADL was gathering data "systematically in a program whose clear intent was to undermine civil rights and Arab-American organizations." The national director of the ADL, Abraham Foxman, rebutted these charges. He noted that the no court ever found the ADL guilty of the charges that were made against it. Foxman said "If it were true, they would have won their case. Our judicial system is such that you can sue anyone and accuse them of God knows what and we have to defend it, but if you defend it, it's going to cost you a lot of money. In order to stop harassment and malicious prosecution, what you do is settle it. And in settling you say, 'I didn't do it and won't do it again' -- it's an absurdity."

The lawsuit was settled out of court in 1998. The ADL agreed to pay the court costs of the groups that sued them, and spent $25,000 to further Jewish-Muslim and Jewish-black relations.

See also: AIPAC, JCPA, Presidents' Conference, anti-Semitism, racism

External Links

ADL position statements:

News articles:

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